Guest Post by Kyle Ward, Artfulclub.com
Before you think that this is another piece about some melodramatic finding of Buddhahood, stop, because this is not. I am of course not denying Tibet’s spiritual history and their spiritual principles, but sometimes we link these things to superficial goals, and in the end disappointment is the only thing we get out of it. I have found it to be a distinctly better approach to visit places with an open mind. This way you can absorb the things that you are ready for and leave the ones which you will never be able to accept. So, if not for pure spiritual enlightenment, then for what purpose should one go to Tibet?
Granted it can take some while to get the permits and all the other stuff in order, but it has its own benefits. Nothing good in life is easy, and when it is often we do not give it its due respect. The first thing that strikes you is that it is a tad difficult to breathe there especially in Lhasa. It does not matter whether you are in shape or not. It may take a normal person up to a week to acclimatize to the high altitude, unless you are travelling from a high altitude region take this fact into consideration. So, in no specific order here is the list:
1. The Architecture
Many people are surprised by this inclusion at all. But, for me personally it has always been something which I like to see in the places I visit. Be it the Gothic Medieval Architecture in Bruges, Belgium; the Ottoman fundamentals in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul; or Tibetan Buddhism induced architectural design in The Potala Palace, the architecture is always an interesting subject.
2. The Suburban Areas
While Lhasa and Xining itself have been a victim of mild industrialization and cannot be called the pollution free setup they were back in the earlier decades, their suburbs are excellent and if you want even more adventure then you can always get off the known track, so to say, and explore Eastern Tibet. The food is cheap, the accommodation is reasonable, and most of the people are very friendly. But, be very careful there, as most of the roads are bumpy at best and with rain landslides can occur. And, unless you take one with you, you have a very low chance of meeting another westerner.
3. The Fantastic and Nerve Soothing Views
This is pretty obvious, but one of the benefits of being in a city (Lhasa) at a height of 3490m is that you can just stand and look at the sprawling bordering country side. Lhasa is a small city when compared to the giants in China and most other parts of the world. Its population stands at around just 257,000 people. Some of the tallest mountains lie in this region and even if you don’t go to a base camp, you will still glimpse their snowcapped peaks from afar.
4. The Hospitable People and the Culture
Hospitality is one thing which the Tibetans are known for and with good measure. Your travel guide will hold a central position in this interaction. If you truly wish to know about spirituality then you will find it in the daily interactions with the locals. These are people who have lived according to those principles for their whole lives. I may not agree with them on all levels, but this is the way to learn about them. Their simple dairy based diets, especially in the eastern regions and their polite nature has a lot to offer the world.
5. The Challenge in the Travel
Visiting other regions is a challenge in itself. It is by no means easy at any stage, but we get through it due to the perceived benefits. If you have had problem with heights before in terms of Altitude Sickness, then it would be highly unwise to go directly to a higher region like Lhasa. We are capable of staying sickness free at up to 2500m, anything above that our body needs to acclimatize for it. It needs anything from a few days to up to a week to adjust according to the high altitude. The other major factor is the cold weather, so take your warmest Backcountry apparel, if you want to feel warm at all. If you persevere, then the physical benefits are rewarding. After your trip to Tibet, you will feel light and there are some really solid scientific reasons for it. First of all, your red blood cell count is going to go up. Next you will be in excellent shape due to all the mountainous travel. This is further supplemented by thankfulness for all the things that we take for granted in our urban and even rural areas here in the Americas.
So, how does this all help you out? The answer is simple: you will have a better understanding of life in all its myriad colors. The daily life of the locals, especially the towns’ people, is tough by all standards. Working at such high altitudes takes a toll on everything. Yet, the most astounding thing is that they still find reasons to be happy, to lead full lives, to have unique architecture, to be polite, to share, all without hoarding the things we run after all our lives. This is prime material for true introspection. For me, this is Tibet.